|Your morning cup of coffee...not only good, but good for you.|
Like many other superfoods such as blueberries and green tea, coffee “fruit” is an excellent source of antioxidants. In fact, a recent study from the University of Scranton found that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet.2 Antioxidants are molecules that are believed to protect cells from free radicals - harmful oxygen molecules thought to damage cells and perhaps be the underlying reason why we age.
When an oxygen molecule becomes electrically charged, or “radicalized,” it tries to steal electrons from other molecules, causing damage to the cell’s DNA. Over time, such damage may become irreversible and lead to disease. The job of antioxidants is to “mop up” free radicals, meaning that they neutralize their electrical charge and prevent the free radicals from taking electrons from other molecules.
The importance of antioxidants to the diet cannot be overestimated. Dr. Richard Cutler, the former director of the National Institute on Aging, has said repeatedly that the amount of antioxidants in your body is directly proportional to how long you will live. Just as importantly, antioxidant levels have a major impact on the quality of life – freedom from illness, mental acuity, improved physical appearance, enhanced flexibility and increased energy – enjoyed by seniors.
Antioxidants can come from healthy eating or in the form of supplements, and they include a family of naturally formed components like vitamin A, beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamin E and more.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, as we age, our cellular production of energy becomes less efficient, leading to age-related diseases that affect the function of the eyes and all types of muscles, including the heart.3 This loss of energy production associated with aging also increases the generation of free radicals and other oxidants, which are capable of damaging essential cellular components, including lipids, proteins and DNA itself.
With this in mind, increasing a senior’s dietary antioxidant intake can play a critical role in maintaining his or her good health. Dietitians understand that half the battle of delivering nutritional value is in finding a food or drink that people enjoy.
According to a recent survey by the National Coffee Association, 69 percent of Americans age 60 and older reported drinking coffee daily, which peaks at 3.8 cups per day on average for those ages 40-59.4 Foodservice research group Technomic also reports that coffee is the drink most widely consumed by seniors, coming in ahead of fruit juice and tap water.5 For this group, coffee-drinking may be one of the best ways to combine nutritional value and health benefits with a simple daily pleasure.
So, how good is coffee for you, anyway?
A wide body of scientific research indicates the major benefits of coffee-drinking, particularly in improving health-issues frequently encountered by seniors.
Memory and motor skills:
2009 study from Finland and Sweden showed that, out of 1,400 people followed for 20 years, those who reported drinking 3 or more cups of coffee per day were 65 percent less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than non-drinkers or occasional coffee drinkers.6
The Harvard School of Public Health acknowledges that in study after study, the data have always shown a consistent link between higher coffee consumption and a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease.7
The antioxidants and vitamins found in coffee are known to be excellent anti-depressants and memory and performance enhancers.
Heart disease and stroke:
In a study of 130,000 Kaiser Permanente health plan members, those who drank 1-3 cups of coffee per day were 20 percent less likely to be hospitalized for abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia) than non-drinkers.8
In a 2009 study of nearly 84,000 women, those who drank two or more cups of coffee per day showed a 20 percent lower risk of stroke than those who drank less.9
A 2008 study published in Planta Medica looked at the effects of long-term coffee consumption on the immune system in cancer tumors and found coffee inhibited the growth of cancer cells by reducing the cancer cell-induced suppression of the normal immune response.10
Recent studies from Harvard University and other public health groups have shown that the risk of developing certain types of cancer, including liver, breast, prostate, esophageal and colon actually decreases with the consumption of coffee.11
Type 2 diabetes:
Coffee contains minerals such as magnesium and chromium, which help the body use the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar (glucose).
Australian researchers recently looked at 18 studies of nearly 458,000 people. They found a 7 percent decrease in the odds of having type 2 diabetes for every additional cup of coffee drunk daily.12
Coffee has the ability to reduce the release of histamines from mast cells, thereby having anti-allergic properties.13
Coffee contains theophylline which may protect against respiratory problems, such as asthma and COPD.
Several studies have shown that foods high in antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help alleviate arthritis pain and increase freedom of movement.14
While much of this research focuses on the benefits of long-term coffee-drinking, there is also a body of evidence that suggests the benefits of short-consumption on memory, immunity, energy, cholesterol levels, range of motion, activity levels and positive moods.
So, even those who have never had coffee before might consider including it in their daily routine - in moderation, of course.
With all this in mind, it is important that dietitians and senior living professionals understand the important role coffee can play in preventing disease and improving the quality of life of seniors and to look for the healthiest and most beneficial coffee products available to meet the desires of their palates and the demands of their bodies.